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Hunger in the News

Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County is a passionate advocate of anti-hunger legislation, as we have long recognized that food banks alone cannot fill all of the needs of the hungry in our community. For many years we have been involved with leading organizations that advocate for those in need, to promote more sustainable, long-term solutions to the problem of hunger.

Worryingly, though, the current budget crisis has brought forth a number of proposals that would have a serious impact on the Food Bank, our Member Partners, and most importantly, the people we help. In the words of a prominent advocacy coalition, “cuts to [these] programs…would inevitably increase poverty and hardship.” As Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America expressed, “Feeding America food banks are already overburdened as we struggle to keep pace with historic levels of need for emergency food assistance and private charity cannot fill the gap if nutrition assistance programs are cut.”

Several of Second Harvest Food Bank’s programs, including the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Nutrition Education, and the Summer Food Program, are in jeopardy because of these cuts. One particularly vulnerable program is CalFresh (formerly known as Food Stamps), which is unique both in its underutilization and its potential for positive local economic impact.

With less than half of eligible Californians utilizing CalFresh benefits, the state is 49th in the nation for enrollment in the program. Unnecessarily low CalFresh participation has long-term health consequences for those who turn to cheaper, unhealthy food alternatives when there’s no room in a family’s budget for nutritious options. Beyond the impact of poor nutrition on obesity, lower school performance, and increased susceptibility to disease, though, low program enrollment means forfeiture of millions of dollars of potential revenue infusion into local economies. Officials calculate that every dollar spent on CalFresh benefits in turn generates $1.79 in economic activity. California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) estimates that raising California’s participation rates to the nationwide average of 75% would yield $131 million in sales tax revenue, with an additional $40 million to be generated if participation levels further increased to 100%.

To help increase the rate of CalFresh enrollment, in 2010 Second Harvest piloted a CalFresh outreach program. Two staff members work to identify potentially-eligible individuals for benefits and assist them through the application process, with the goal of demystifying the application process and removing the social stigma of applying for “food stamps.” For many eligible residents, that personal assistance can make a world of difference. In the case of 70-year-old Janice, a grandmother living meagerly on Social Security before unexpectedly having to care for her grandson, embarrassment had prevented her from applying. When her Second Harvest outreach worker assessed her as eligible, Janice began to cry because “she had been scared to call for information, believing that the person from the government would be rude and judgmental. When [staff] called her a month later to confirm that she had started receiving the benefits, she was again very grateful for the help she received from the Food Bank.”

In addition to providing enrollment support, Second Harvest Food Bank has joined with California Association of Food Banks and CFPA in backing legislation to simplify applications while saving the State money. Yet despite the many well-documented local economic benefits of the CalFresh program, budget cuts threaten both the availability of the program, and our ability to continue making it more accessible to those in need.

At this critical juncture in the deficit reduction talks, the leaders of prominent national religious, civil rights, charitable, economic research and low-income advocacy organizations are calling on Executive and Congressional leadership to honor the precedent set by previous deficit reduction negotiations that have reduced the budget gap without targeting our most vulnerable neighbors. As our partner, we ask you to take a stand to ensure these desperately-needed programs are not abandoned when our communities need them most.

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